For many, the timing of Denham Brown’s return to Canada Basketball’s senior men’s national team is suspect. After failing to show up at the team’s training camp in 2008 before the Olympic qualifying tournament Brown became mostly unreachable, charting his own hoops career path that apparently no longer included the national program.
“I just think it was a dual interest,” said Brown following a team workout at the Air Canada Centre last week. “It was in my interest to come back and also Canada Basketball and the organization wanted me to come back. Me and Leo spoke over the phone about a month before camp started and pretty much spoke and cleared everything up. I have an understanding now towards team concepts and stuff like that, being more mature. And being a leader on this team. That’s pretty much what I need to do right now.”
The West Hill Collegiate star and NCAA champion with the University of Connecticut had earned a reputation in some circles as a me-first player with little patience for the lesser talents around him. It wasn’t an image defining reputation but the knock didn’t sit well with Brown who decided to end his silence and put in a call to head coach Leo Rautins and managing director Maurizio Gherardini. Rautins did most of the listening in that conversation and let Brown know he could afford no distractions along their underdog journey to the FIBA world championship set to tip off August 28 in Turkey. Brown in turn assured him that his intentions were to show and prove and according to the coaching staff he has done exactly that. Rautins has called him “fantastic” and was quick to recognize him as one of the best players in camp. Brown – a solid scorer with strong body tactics – knows he will be called on to step out of the collective at times when the team needs a veteran push of life. He also knows that he isn’t alone. NBAers Joel Anthony and Andy Rautins along with point guard Jermaine Anderson are also guys who will need to shine.
“Andy just getting drafted, Joel solidified himself as an NBA player…” Brown is naming reasons why there is so much confidence in the program right now. Why there is a palpable buzz long missing from hoops culture in this under-populated country. “You’ve got up-and-coming guys, guys who are three to four years overseas and you’ve got myself returning. This is the most talented team that I’ve seen compete for team Canada.”
That is where some suspicion has set in for some observers who have questioned Brown’s motivation. In the past year he was released by his Venezuelan team, blew up the NBDL with some stellar play and then put in a short tour in the Philippines with the Barangay Ginebra Kings. Not all roses, and returning home in time to play in the biggest professional basketball tournament in the world puts him under a spotlight that should reintroduce him to the basketball world. With a huge influx of recognizable Canadian basketball players the national program arguable has more star power up front and in the wings than ever before. Being associated with that has its privileges too.
Still for all the critics who seem ready to tear down Brown’s motivations there is a history that speaks louder than those cries. The 6-5 Toronto native represented with the SMNT from 2003-07 and was always a main contributor on the court. He is a NCAA champion, a former NBA draft pick, a local high school legend and professional baller. Quite simply, he has never needed the national team program to stand out and in turn, the program had continued on without him in fine form. Now, with both having grown immensely over the past two years, on the eve of one of the most important times in the program’s history, now more than ever they need each other. While a good performance under the watchful eyes of the world will help his professional prospects for next season there appears to be a more prideful, patriotic reasoning behind Brown’s return.
“Canada has built a foundation around the guys who are helping to build basketball,” said Brown. “We need all the support we can get. You’ve got a lot of big names such as myself, Andy Rautins, Joel Anthony and Jermaine Anderson. People now know us personally and as basketball players. We’re all young guys with 27 being the oldest so we’re going to make a big push for the worlds. By the time the Olympics come around we’ll be a strong competitor.”
Without a clear-cut star coach Rautins has always been forced to employ an equal-opportunity approach. It’s an “any given Sunday” philosophy that demands a little of everything from everybody and a trust that the more capable performers can recognize when to explode without playing out of the team concept. The Canadians are not talented enough to recover from straying too far from the game plan and having strong, assured minds on the court to steer the ship when the deviations threaten is vital in the crunch. The word leadership is used a lot when Denham speaks about his new role.
“It’s needed ASAP,” says Brown. “I’ve played with the development team and coming into this team its pretty much the same aspect of playing a leadership role. I have no problem with doing that. Guys staying positive are going to help build the characteristics of our team. It can’t be just one guy leading or one guy talking all of the time. We may have six guys. As long as we are picking each other up and feeling positive we’ll be alright.”
With Anderson’s personal mantra of “shock the world” fast becoming the hook for Canada’s hopefuls Brown appears to have bought in. Along with his considerable skills and big game experience comes a new frame of mind, which bodes well for the national team and the man himself.
“Eliminate all the non-factors,” advises Brown on what it will take for him and his mates to make good on Anderson’s proclamation. “Everything going on outside of the team – guys need to eliminate that. I’ve really slowed down right now. I’m staying at the hotel, staying with the team and focusing on what we need to do.”
Nothing suspicious about that.
Canada Basketball, after qualifying for the FIBA World Basketball championships on three different levels, have recently been holding a string of press conferences to keep the consciousness. Last week it was the Men’s Cadet team (under 17) at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel and this week it is the Men’s Senior team holding court for the media at the Air Canada Centre. The women have qualified for both categories as well, in addition to both men’s and women’s teams qualifying for the Junior (under 18) division.
For the Senior Men’s team, the biggest brand of the bunch, the FIBA tournament is the next step in trying to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England. The championship event features 24 countries divided into four six-team Groups. Canada has been designated to Group D, which includes France, Lebanon, Lithuania, New Zealand and powerhouse Spain.
Despite their success in Puerto Rico last year at the FIBA Americas championship tournament the Canadian team is a young bunch. Adding some more NBA grit has always been a priority for the program and is essential for them to make waves in a deep international pool of talented teams. Names like Steve Nash, Jamaal Magloire and American transplant Matt Bonner have made the regular rounds and with scorer Rowan Barrett now retired, veteran leadership is lacking as well. Much of that comes from their head coach Leo Rautins, the former professional player and television personality who has guided this unlikely bunch through both talent and financial shortages.
Rautins, who two years ago cut NBAer Samuel Dalembert for his squad over philosophical differences, has go to know how vital it is to have some NBA blood on the floor. While Nash has mostly stepped back from the program Rautins has been at him to give him one last run. Magloire, who has refused to suit up for Team Canada in the past, seems more open to the idea than ever. Joel Anthony of the NBA’s Miami Heat is really the team’s only fully committed major leaguer, which won’t be enough in the long-term against the world’s best.
The best way to describe the trading of Jason Kapono from the Toronto Raptors to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Reggie Evans is simple… broken promises. And that isn’t just a one-way street headed out of Toronto and down towards the Iiladelph. Best believe that the unfulfilled potential goes both ways and as much as Kapono in Toronto was a bust of a move, Evans hasn’t exactly been a dependable night-in, night-out spark for Philly.
In what amounts to a swap of offense for defense the Raptors, for the third straight season under general manager Bryan Colangelo, will try to add toughness (finally with some hint of the realization that it isn’t going to come from within). Evans is most often described as a tough-nosed player but with a 14 minutes per game average it remains to be seen how much of it will actually become a potent contagion (something smells like most of his “Toughness 101″ classes will be taught in practice, with some mid-season backdoor credit). His 4.6 rebounds and 3.3 points per game won’t make him a coveted must-have in your fantasy league either, but he also doesn’t need be involved scoring-wise to feel better about rebounding and playing defense.
The statistic most often thrown around with Evans is his per minute rebound rate, which has been in the top ten of the league in six of his seven years in. This past season he placed seventh in rebounds per 48 minutes. It’s a number that would matter a lot more if he ever found himself on the court for extended minutes. While it speaks to some efficiency, the reality is that if the 6-8 forward logs big minutes something has gone wrong. Evans can be downright horrific on offense but has streaks of being a lockdown defender and zeroed in rebounder, both things consistently missing from Toronto’s make-up last season.
The same “tease” quickly became true of Kapono during his two-year stay in Toronto. While his three-point prowess is undeniable he never found a happy place under former Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell, and was up and down under his Mitchell’s mid-season replacement Jay Triano. It was thought that Triano’s permanent hiring last month would mean a second lease on life in Toronto for Kapono but Colangelo could not resist the urge to correct another one of his unproductive signings.
Reversing bad deals has been like a second job for Raptors management this past year, and Kapono’s contributions lacked impact. He was never able to effectively expand his role beyond that of a specialist, though the Raptors gave him a four-year, $24M contract to try. Front court marauders Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, and Jermaine O’Neal were never enough of a combined threat to give Kapono the room he was used to in Miami, where he played a very limited role behind the strong, attention-grabbing presences of Shaquille O’Neal and Dwayne Wade.
Kapono won’t get that in Philadelphia either – not with Samuel Dalembert manning the middle – but the 76ers haven’t had a star shooter since trading away Kyle Korver two seasons ago. They’ve also developed talent like Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights and are hopeful that Elton Brand returns to All-Star form next season after a campaign racked with injury. Evans became expendable under these additions and Kapono on paper represents a major upgrade in the shooting department.
The Sixers pay extra in the deal, about $2.5M over the next two seasons – the duration of both player contracts. Evans becomes one of just four Raptors under contract past 2010 on a team that currently does not have a true maximum deal on the payroll. Kapono joins a club committed long-term to Brand and franchise player Andre Iguadala.
Go blow-for-blow and it’s unclear who wins out on this deal. At a glance it would seem like a no-brainer fleece for Philadelphia, who had an overabundance of bigs and no feared long-distance shooters. Simple math, right? Alas, there is nobody on the roster who commands a double-team and the honesty by which the opposition is allowed to defend Philly’s shooters is a contributing factor. The Sixers were dead last in three-point shooting last season with a dismal 31.8 percent. The 76ers only had to give up the least valuable forward on the team while the Raptors had to give up one of the best three-point shooters in the league.
While the Raptors finished the season ranked 21st in rebounding and opponents field goal percentage they spent most of the year ranked lower in both categories. Depending on how the Raptors choose to select in this month’s NBA draft, and whether or not they can re-sign the much-needed Shawn Marion, Evans could have a steady role or play a bit part. The team is selling this as an addition of toughness and after Colangelo sold Bosh, Bargnani and Kris Humphries as the same last year it’s easy to be cautious.
Point guard Jameer Nelson sent a bit of a shockwave throughout NBA circles on Thursday when it was discovered that he would be suiting up for the Orlando Magic in time for Game 1 of the league Final.
By inserting him back into the rotation Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy is risking disrupting a chemistry that has clicked with Rafer Alston as the starting point man and Anthony Johnson as the 15-minutes-or-less back-up.
Nelson was injured this past February when he collided with Dallas Mavericks center Eric Dampier in the third quarter of an eventual 105-95 home loss. Originally diagnosed as a dislocated shoulder, an MRI later revealed a torn labrum. He hasn’t played in an NBA game since and after having surgery to repair his ripped shoulder it was thought that Nelson was gone for the season. However, with the underdog Magic improbably beating both the defending champion Boston Celtics and the 66-win Cleveland Cavaliers to get to the big show, it seems they have bought enough time to allow for Nelson’s return.
That said, in his absence Alston – acquired from the Houston Rockets in a trade deadline day deal in the frenzy to replace Nelson and save their season – has played a major role in helping the Magic reach the Final. While Alston is sure to keep his starting role for now, Nelson’s effectiveness could cut into his minutes significantly if the St. Joseph’s product can return to this season’s form. Nelson was averaging 16.7 points and 5.4 assists through 42 games for Orlando before he went down, earning him his first All-Star selection and a ranking as one of the league’s best point guards. Alston has averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 assists with the Rockets and Magic this season, including a respectable 12.7 points and 4.4 assists through the first three rounds of the postseason.
The Magic played Nelson’s return close to the vest, saying in recent days that the likeliehood of his return to start the series was highly unlikely. Those close to Nelson know him as a fearless competitor who viewed the oppurtunity to suit up for the NBA Final too rare an occassion to pass up. Doctors cleared him to play two weeks ago, he had a full contact practice with his team this week and in the second quarter of Game 1, Nelson was back on the floor just four months after surgeons opened him up and forecasted a probable end to his breakthrough campaign.
Nobody saw this return coming. Then again, who thought the Magic would be in the NBA Final a month ago?